So Long República Dominicana, Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow (Part Seis)

We had one more full day in the D.R. before reality set in. Didn’t do much on this day except exactly what we wanted. What a drag, to do whatever you want. I guess that could get old. Think it might take a while, though.

I’ll leave you with a few random pictures.

Johnny actually had to work a few hours the last day we were there. The rest of us slept late and well, as I said before, did what we wanted, meaning not much. Here’s Johnny’s office for the day, under a little cabana in a quiet section of the resort. We strolled by to visit the poor working guy. Not a bad little office. I think I could work here.

Chess anyone?

Somehow I managed to walk around poolside for a number of days before I spotted this huge chess board. Nothing slow about me, no sirreee.

Sara and I were strolling the beach and whaddaya know, we ran into some celebrities! In full finery, balloons and all! Ladies and Gentlemen, below is a fuzzy picture of Sara and The Spice Girls…

Such a nice group of girls, and so shy, too!

I haven’t mentioned yet all the entertainment in the evenings. After dinner, we went to see the shows, rain or moon shine (not moonshine, remember this is the land of Mama Juana). Every show was entertaining. We saw The Spice Girls, a Jazz show, and a couple of others. The best one was a Michael Jackson revue. It was raining that night, and we were late and had to stand in the very back of the audience, our butts barely out of the rain. The guy was fantastic, but I did not get a picture of him, unfortunately.

Here we are having fun at one of the evening shows.

Sara and Alex loved the D.R. because it was “legal” for them to drink alcohol. Sara was just shy of 21 on this trip, and Alex is 18. So, poor sober Daniel had to put up with all of us all week. Actually, we behaved ourselves for the most part, and in reality, we pooped out most nights and shut down kind of early. Long days on the beach and running from the storms combined with a couple of afternoon toddies every day just made us want to check in early.

Check it out – Alex is stylin’!

Love Sara’s necklace – and such color coordination!

Here are the old farts…

We all had our new bling on except Johnny. He didn’t want bling, but we’re glad he comes along to buy us bling! Daniel decided to heck with us that night and went back to the room for peace and quiet, and a couple of apple pie à la modes from room service. We actually let the kids order room service on a few nights. We have NEVER done that, but figured WHY THE HECK NOT?

Here are a few pictures of the resort…

Inside one of our rooms… the one with the bed still made.

In the lobby area. The huge lobby area.

Thought this was a neat shot…

I loved this carving. Think he needs some coffee,though.

The World Cup score board…

Unfortunately, vacations have to come to an end. Such a beautiful place, and in spite of the rain, what a lovely vacation we had. All five of us together is a rare treat these days in any location, but so fabulous to spend seven days together in paradise!

Here we are at the airport again.

Passing underneath a Big Ass Fan. That is its name, if you can see in the picture above. Although it looks like you can’t read it without enlarging it, Dumb Ass Camera. There were an abundance of Big Ass Fans in the Punta Cana Airport, and I’m convinced there’s not a more deserving place in the universe for them to be.

A little serenade before boarding the plane. I don’t know what they were singing, but they sure seemed happy to see us go…

Bye-bye, República Dominicana! I hope to come back some day!

That’s It. That’s All She Wrote. That’s The End of This Story. Finally.

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And the Rains Came Down (R&R Part Four)

Oh, the rains came down and the floods came up.  They really did.  All day long the day after our trip to Saona Island, Tropical Storm Alex let loose on the Dominican Republic.  If you’ve ever wondered what rain looks like coming off of a thatched roof, well, here you go. 

  

I loved the thatched roofs.  What’s even better, they don’t leak!  We sat under them all day and watched the weather.  A couple of us even enjoyed the weather!  If you’ll notice in the background, the workers are sweeping the rain water into drains to keep it from coming into the dining area.  By the way, Daniel was NOT looking at the camera, but rather at something incredibly interesting over there

and again, Daniel was NOT looking at the camera, but this time at something fascinating up there… and Alex was NOT enjoying the rain, and was likely bummed at the prospect of little or no beach time in his immediate future.

Daniel is wearing his official USA World Cup jersey.  If I didn’t mention it before, our vacation began shortly after the World Cup started this year.  We saw World Cup jerseys from many countries, and we heard plenty of World Cup banter in various languages.  Interesting week to be in the D.R.!  

Here’s a little crab who was unfortunate enough to cross our path that morning.  He was kinda pissed at us, a bit crabby, in fact, but we didn’t have so much to do so we had to play with him.

Poor Sara was a little under the weather on this rainy day… get it, she was under the weather?  Weren’t we all?  She more so than the rest of us, though.  In fact, she stayed in the room most of the day.  We checked on her from time to time when the monsoon eased, and brought her medicine.  She finally emerged in the late afternoon, still feeling a little iffy.

Meanwhile, the rest of us had already drank our weight in alcohol for the day (well, not Daniel).  He’s only 14.  I’m not that bad of a mother.  My personal favorite was called a Banana Mama.  Not to be confused with the Mama Juana, which I’ll talk about next time.  The Banana Mama is practically fruit in a glass, with rum, of course.  See below for a possible recipe I snatched from this website:  http://www.gasblender.com/recipes.htm#BananaMama

Banana Mama

1-1/2oz. light rum
1/2oz. dark rum
1 oz. banana liqueur
1 oz. cream of coconut
1 oz. fresh or frozen strawberries
2 oz. pineapple juice

1.  In blender, combine light rum, dark rum, banana liqueur, cream of coconut, strawberries and pineapple juice with 3 oz. crushed ice.

2.  Blend until smooth

3.  Pour into goblet, and well, you know what to do next.

That’s one of the many recipes I found, but it sounds about right.  A wedge of pineapple on the side was the only visible fruit, maybe a cherry.  Should have taken a picture of one, darn!

So… we had a decent buzz going.  When it rains, you gotta do something.  Drink and play cards, I say! 

We purchased this card deck from the little store at the resort since our cards were in our room and we were not.  This deck was labeled Naipes playing cards.  Numbered 1 through 12, the cards had some funny pictures, and no face cards.  I just thought it was a Spanish deck, but I now see several descriptions of Naipes playing cards on the net (including tarot cards) so who knows what we were playing with.  I’m not sure if I’m going to hell for playing poker, playing with tarot cards, or drinking excessively.  I’m pretty sure neither of those things are acceptable tenets of Methodist doctrine…

In between games and watching the rain, we took pictures and walked around when it wasn’t pouring.  Here are a couple of more pictures of a flamingo.

and a turtle…

Here’s a picture of Sara, feeling much better!  Or could be she was under some kind of spell after that card game…

Until next time…  Stay tuned for our snorkeling excursion!

Mammajuana Go to Saona Island (R&R Part Three)

Life keeps getting in the way of my blog, yet I will eventually finish this tale, if you will just hang in there with me. 

Our first “excursion” on this vacation was a trip to Saona Island.  It took a few hours to get there from our resort.  More than an hour by land, and then the rest by sea, as you would expect because it is, well, an island. 

 

Our bus picked us up a little bleary and unfed (the dining rooms weren’t open yet) early, early in the morning and, lucky us, we were the first stop.  Meaning we spent probably 45 minutes just picking up other people at other resorts.  Nap time for Alex…

Once everyone was aboard, our driver took us through the beautiful Dominican Republic countryside and educated us a bit on the history and the lives of the people in this country. 

The native people are descendants of Spaniards and Africans.  The Africans were brought to the D.R. as slaves in the early 1500’s, as the world seemed wont to do during that period.  Most people today are poor and live in villages.  Their houses are what we in  the U.S. might refer to as shacks.  The nicer houses are made of concrete, and painted in various colors. 

Farming is the main industry in the D.R., the chief crops are sugar cane and tobacco, but also fruits such as papayas, mangos and bananas.  Cattle farming is another big industry here.  While in the U.S. meat processing takes place beyond consumers’ eyes, not so here.  They skin the bodies right on the street, which we witnessed outside some of the shops that we passed by.

Not many cars in the D.R.  Most people travel by scooter, if they have a vehicle at all.  They carry multiple people on these little scooters and transport EVERYTHING.  Our driver told us that he once saw someone toting a washing machine on the back of a scooter, and we did see several people carrying propane tanks on their scooters.  I tried to get a picture, but moving targets, you know.

We drove through the main city in the region, Higüey, past the shops and daily commerce.  As you can tell by the clouds and the wet roads, it was raining off and on.

Here is a park in Higüey.  Note the murals of the Disney characters!

…and the most famous and significant landmark, La Basilica de Higüey, the religious destination of locals and foreignors alike.  Except for us.  We were on our way to an island, but the driver slowed down so we could snap pictures.  Apparently, the interior is also a marvel to behold.

During our ride, we were cruising down the road and heard a loud snap, of sorts.  Not such a good noise.  We stopped, and the driver got out and examined the bus, then came back to tell us we had ourselves a situation.  While it was not a mechanical emergency, we had a choice to make.  We could limp to a little store and wait for a new bus, or we could suffer to our destination and a new bus would be there at the end of our trip.  We chose to suffer, and suffer we did.  No air conditioning.  As I mentioned earlier, the humidity in the D.R. is incredible.  We put on our big girl panties and endured.  We were not so sweet smelling when we finally arrived at our drop off point, but we finally arrived, sweat and all.  I don’t remember what this place was called, but it looked a little like a bombed-out war zone.

 

This was a resort under construction, but the developer was stopped for non-payment of taxes.  Not an uncommon sight in the region.

We walked down the path you see in the picture above to the pier to catch our speedy ride to the island.

Back to the deep blue sea.  You can see our ride at the end of the pier in the picture above, but here’s what we looked like while we were riding…

This was actually another boat on the same excursion, but as you can’t get a picture quite like this of yourself riding in a speed boat, we’ll just have to assume that we looked way cooler than they did.

See what I mean?

A little scenery as we’re passing by.  Look at this blue-green water!

 

We stopped in the middle of the boat ride to cool off, and search for starfish and such on a little sand bar.

Notice (several pictures above) the bow of the boat.  At high speeds like this, the bow is so high you wonder how the captain can even see to drive.  Well, turns out he can’t.  We were speeding along, and suddenly our captain swerved mightily, we heard a sickening metal kabam, and felt a jolt.  We stopped, and here’s why…

We seriously hit this boat.  Apparently unattended, maybe a runaway from a not so far away dock, I still hope.  We circled the boat a few times, didn’t see any sign of life… gulp… and forged ahead.  No damage, or not much to our boat.  Yep, we just left this little boat in the middle of the ocean for someone else to find.  I’m hoping they at least radioed to someone, anyone, to come fetch this little runaway, but it was out of our hands.

Close call, but here we are, finally, on the island. Yes, I am taking a long time to get to the point, aren’t I? But, you know what they say, it’s all about the journey…

The beautiful Island of Saona.  We had a lunch of questionable worth here (not complaining, but hey, it just wasn’t so good), but considering all the excitement so far, and the fact that we had not eaten yet, we had no problem chowing down.  The beach here was not any more beautiful than the beach at our resort, and there were more shells and so it was tough on your feet entering the water.  Still a beautiful place, though. 

Johnny and I took a walk, and it started to pour.  It started to pour every time we took a walk on the beach during our trip .  Yeah, thank you Alex!  Tropical Storm and soon to be Hurricane Alex!

The rain didn’t persist the whole time, so we still had fun.

 

We were told, rather warned, ahead of time of the commerce on the beach.  We were approached right in our lounge chairs by people selling hats, jewelry, cigars. 

Cigars, anyone?

 

Palm frond hats?

Time to leave.  The trip back was on a sailboat instead of a speedboat.  Slower paced, probably safer, unless the weather picked up again…

 

Great picture of Dan the Man…

The day was now etched into our memories, and onto the bottle of mamajuana herbs below.     

Mamajuana, sweet nectar of the Dominican Republic!  It’ll put hair on your chest!  Hmmm, think I’ll have some.

More to come…

Let the Commencement Commence!

Milestone at my house last weekend.  Alex graduated from high school on June 12th.  Very likely the last school district on the planet to hold commencement exercises, but that’s ok.  It let me hold on to thoughts of my baby just a couple of weeks longer.  Oh, okay.  I’ll hold on to them forever, but those twelve years went by in a flash. 

Graduation is held at the University of North Texas Mean Green (only they’re just not that mean) stadium because it’s the only place around here that can accommodate the gigantic schools in the district.  The FMHS Class of 2010 had about 635 735 kids (update, Alex corrected me on this).  Add all their brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and some friends, and that’s a house full.  Here the graduates are lining up.  Alex is the guy in the dark gray shirt, black tie. 

We were late getting there, so we made him walk from the service road to the stadium.  All students had to leave their contraband behind.  Alex was looking for us when we finally got there because he couldn’t take in anything except one car key.  Nothing else.  Except underpants.  No extras, though, but I can see where an extra pair of underpants might come in handy on graduation day or any other ceremony where you have to walk in a long dress without tripping in front of thousands of people!  He had taken his wallet also, and so it was a good thing we happened by when we did, ’cause he didn’t have his phone to call us either (phones were definitely on the no-no list).  

We were glad Alex had highlights so we could find him in the dark blue sea of 635 735 graduating seniors.  

Finally, the “N’s”!

…looking happy and a little bit proud of himself!

Receiving his diploma… 

 and hugging a favorite counselor on the way back to his chair…

 

Alex after the ceremony with Sara and Daniel

with Anna Pam and Uncle Don

with Nanny and Grandaddy

and with us.

…and then the five of us.  The Neal grandparents and Aunt Kelly were also in attendance, but unfortunately we only got pictures of them before the ceremony, on their camera.  They were out in the parking lot bravely fighting traffic as we took these pictures.  I’ll have to post an update at a later date.

Getting back to the basics, playing with bubbles back at home (bubbles, the perfect graduation gift!).  Actually, we did get Alex something else to mark this momentous occasion, but bubbles seemed a nice little extra. 

The next day we held a brunch to honor Alex and his friends and bandmates, Tyler & Jacob.  I took a few pictures just before the party, and didn’t take any more after it actually started (again, unfortunately!), but here’s the cake before it got mutilated.  We talked about carving Nick’s head out since he hasn’t graduated yet, but that seemed a bit harsh.  However, Daniel managed to carve Alex’s head out of the middle of the cake and showed everyone whose head he was about to devour.  Then the other guys mutilated each other’s faces on the cake, so you see, just because a kid turns 18 and graduates, doesn’t mean he’s grown up.  No, not so much. 

A collage poster that Alex and I put together the night before…

Some band memorabilia and the band – Tyler, Alex & Nick (unfortunately, Jacob is missing from this picture).

So, happy graduation guys!  The future is bright!  As of this writing, Alex has already been to his college orientation and registered for his fall classes.  Being the last to graduate also makes for a short summer!  Before you know it, he’ll be moving into the dorm.  Nope, don’t want to think about that just yet…

Update… after reading my friend Char’s blog about her son graduating also, I realized I didn’t even say how  uber proud we are of Alex.  Sorry, Alex!  I know you told me never to use the word “uber” again, so I’ll rephrase… we are ultra proud to be your parents, as proud as we can be, and are absolutely bursting at the seams with pride and love for you!  I’ll stop there because I’m out of kleenex.

There, that’s better!

Alaska, Part Two (for real this time)

Here’s where all our luggage went, aboard the Serenade of the Seas.  It’s a miracle this beauty can float. 20090706_012 (Small)

It’s also a miracle that our luggage found its way to our cabins.  It’s a miracle WE found our cabins.

The pictures below were taken after we had been sailing for a couple of days, our first stop … Icy Strait Point.20090706_014 (Small)

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… and now you’ve seen Icy Strait Point!  Beauty lurks behind these buildings, and apparently, a mile or so down the road (road, really?  I didn’t see a road?) is Hoonah, a Tlingit native village of about 900 people.  Today, Icy Strait Point is mostly a tourist spot, with the main attractions being the longest zip line in the world (so they say), a salmon cannery museum, shops, and a couple of restaurants.  You see, I know considerably more about Icy Strait than I did about Vancouver.  That’s because I brought home a cheat sheet!

Excursions were planned before the trip, and nope, no one in our crew did the zip line.  We almost felt guilty we didn’t let the kids do the zip line, almost.

We hiked a trail behind the mini-town of Icy Strait.  Below are my nephew Jake (on the left), and my kids, Sara, Daniel & Alex.20090706_050 (Small)

 20090706_051 (Small)… about face, forward march …

 

Unfortunately this next picture doesn’t tell the story I intended.  I’m including this shot because I wanted to show that just one of these leaves was as big as my head.  It would have been more dramatic to place someone’s head next to a leaf.   Especially severed … now that would have been dramatic!  Just joshing, of course!20090706_029 (Small)

 Here are a few family shots from the trail:20090706_033 (Small)

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While hoofing it down the trail,  we ran into this sign:20090706_043 (Small)

Squinting to see who were the goofs for whom rules don’t apply, I said to Sara, I wonder who those two goobers are?  She said, why that’s Alex & Jake!  Naturally …

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Busted!

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While hiking back, Johnny snapped these candid pictures through the trees of his parents, Jack and Nancy, as they were enjoying themselves on the trail:

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Our excursion at Icy Strait Point was a whale and mammal cruise, which was fabulous-o!  We wicked parents redeemed ourselves with this choice!  Lips zipped and no zip lines further quipped.  Yeah …

Silly girl … see Daniel pointing?  The whales are outside of the boat …

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We stood on the deck of the boat and waited for Humpback whales to surface.  They’d surface on one side of the boat, and we’d run to that side and ooh and aah and take pictures, then they’d surface on the other side of the boat, and we’d run over to that side and ooh and aah and take pictures, then they’d surface back on the opposite side … well, you get the picture.  Luckily, the boat was a weeble.  Weebles wobble, but they don’t tip over!

It’s hard to get whales to cooperate, but here are a few that did:20090706_077 (Small)

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and eagles, too.   Beautiful, but equally uncooperative! 20090706_086 (Small)

Time to get back on the big boat, our home away from home.20090706_165 (Small)

Stay tuned … Skagway is next!

The Arrival of Teen Dan

“Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”  Is that show still on?  I gave up soaps long ago, but I will never forget that line.  Although it took thirteen years to get here, it came all too suddenly.   Like sands through the hour glass.  Slow, until you think about how fast a grain of sand passes through a tiny opening.

Daniel turned thirteen a few weeks ago, officially making Johnny and me the parents of three teenagers.  No worries, I’ve had nineteen years of preparation, and am finally warming up.  Daniel had a low-key celebration this year – his choice.  His biggest desire, besides another subscription to XBox Live, was to eat lobster.  Actually, he chose lobster for his birthday dinner last year also.  This is a kid who won’t eat any other kind of seafood, and still won’t eat a large number of “normal” foods.  We went on a cruise a couple of years ago, and upon tasting lobster one night, Daniel decided it was the best thing he’d ever eaten.  He has been salivating over lobster ever since.  So, IHOP and CiCi’s, move over, ’cause Daniel is passing you by.

I could never throw a live creature into a boiling pot, nor could I watch my husband do it, nor could I hide in another room holding my hands over my ears while he threw a lobster into a boiling pot, while trying not to hear yet listening for the infamous lobster squeal.  However, I can let someone at Red Lobster do it while sitting a respectable distance from the action.  A quick Google search taught me that a lobster has no vocal chords, so it does not squeal.  The sound you hear after dropping them alive into a boiling pot of water is actually air escaping from cavities in the lobster’s body … ok, I get it.  A lobster fart.  Well, I don’t want to hear that either.

Back to my story – we had to wait a couple of weeks to have the sleepover for Daniel’s birthday, and even then Daniel invited only one friend.  An easy kid to please this year!  All it took to make a party was a couple of boys, a couple of XBox games, a couple of movies, a super-size pizza, and a five-pound bag of gummy bears.  Yes, 5 pounds of gummy bears.   They ate much of the pizza, and almost all of the gummy bears that night.  Daniel polished off the rest of the gummies the next day.  I thought I would surely get to clean up puke at some point.  As I see it, I got off extremely lucky. 

Here are a few pictures of Daniel on his birthday (presents & cake).

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… and in case you were worried, he did snuff out that last candle, otherwise he might still be twelve!

Carla and Her Very Big Awesome Amazing Phenomenal Spectacular Wonderfully Good Day

Today’s my birthday …  I’m having a good time … not just any birthday … it’s the big one!   If you didn’t recognize, that’s my version of The Beatles song, yeah, you know which one.  This birthday is the big one, the big 5-0.  Old enough that I am now being stalked by the AARP, which was a shock to my little psyche.  I’ve been getting letters from them for several months now, so while the shock has worn off, I still rip them to shreds in protest.  Yep, I’ll fight it all the way, me and my Oil of Olay.  Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to open one of these letters and see what the fuss is all about.  I hear it’s about money, so I’m cool with that.  Yes, I am a member of the 50+ club now.  So,  all you youngsters out there, quit your laughing – the AARP will some day stalk you, too! 

It has been a nice day … it started out with a Happy Birthday from hubby (first words I heard today), then off to work.  Next, an office decorated by my evil co-workers with streamers, each sporting a big “50” at the bottom, and Over the Hill signs taped everywhere, along with an unbelievable breakfast feast.  

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 Guess they’re not so evil after all.  You see, while I officially work in the legal department, my office is in the same section as the HR Department, and you can’t get anything past those guys – they know EVERYTHING about EVERYONE.  Age is only the beginning!   I was quite the celebrity, absolutely everyone stopped by and commented on this being the BIG ONE.  My secret is totally blown.  I will never be able to lie about my age!

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Then my parents called, and I received beautiful flowers from my sister & her family.  Next, home to lovely presents (GPS accessories for my car, and books) and sweet cards (ok, and a couple of not so sweet cards, but they were dang funny!) from hubby & kids.  Then, more calls and e-mails from family & friends.  I had already received other presents from family at Christmas, ’cause as you other December birthday people out there know, it just makes no sense to send a birthday present when you are visiting the birthday girl at Christmas!  That has never bothered me like it does some December people I know.  I always loved it, because it just makes the holiday last longer for me! 

The pictures below:  Sara gave me a composite of pictures we took when we went to the Arboretum  together last Spring (you can spot these same pictures in my early blogging days … say, May 1st, 2008).  Guess she loves me!  Daniel picked out the card he’s holding which has the number “50” and the word “poop” – so you know he loves me, too!

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 Alex is not pictured, because he is in Austin, but he called and sang Happy Birthday to me, so love all the way around. 

Lovely day … I think I’ll have another birthday tomorrow!